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  • Ravi Swami

"Boccaccio 70", Dir: Fellini, De Sica, Visconti, Monicelli, 1962- Part#2

As promised in Part #1 of a review of "Boccaccio 70", and since I felt each film in the portmanteau deserved a separate review, being complete films within themselves and that explains the lengthy running time of over 3 hours and where the reviews are in the running order in which they play out on Apple TV, here are my reviews of the other 3 films.

As pointed out in Part#1, the film exists in several versions, most often omitting Mario Monicelli's film, "Renzo e Luciana", and where the running order is shuffled around.

Following on from Federico Fellini's dreamlike "Le Tentazioni del Dottor Antonio", reviewed in Part #1, comes "Il Lavoro" (Eng: "The Job"), starring Romy Schneider as the wife of an aristocrat who has been exposed in the media as a philanderer who visits prostitutes. Up to that point, as a "kept woman" in the lap of luxury, she decides that it is time take up a proper job to prove her independence and leave her wayward husband, knowing that she may be reduced to penury as a result.

She proposes that her husband pay for her sexual services when he makes an advance towards her, initially as a wry joke tinged with sarcasm, but when the idea excites him she accedes and the story ends with her bitterly pondering her future.

Given Visconti's neo-realist films that tended to focus more on the lives of ordinary people in the post-war period, this story reflects Visconti's own aristocratic background and the milieu that he no doubt inhabited, of the super-rich and titled, and there seems to be an element of both disdain and fascination for the opulence and untouchability of that section of society. I found the film to be overly long, with exchanges between Schneider's character and her husband drawn-out, and Visconti seems intent on making the most of his "short" film.

However, he makes his point by the end in a satisfying way, which is that wealth doesn't necessarily lead to equity between the sexes and that women face the same issues regardless of their social status, something that hasn't changed significantly since the film was made.

I haven't watched many films starring Romy Schneider though I've been made more aware of her recently via social media channels like Instagram that focus on her looks and relationship with Alain Delon as a cinema icon of the period during which she appeared in films, primarily in European cinema. Visconti turns her into a true screen goddess in this film to equal her co-stars, Anita Ekberg and Sophia Loren, but which anticipates the changing body-type of female actresses, charting a move away from the voluptuous pin-up "bombshell" stereotype of an earlier era.

The third film is "La Riffa" (Eng: "The Raffle"), directed by Vittorio De Sica and starring Sophia Loren as a woman who runs a fairground shooting-gallery in a rural farming community. The film opens with an unruly cattle-market that is being held in conjunction with a country fair where she has set up her stall and where a man is selling raffle tickets for a prize of spending a night with her, and naturally the take-up is eager amongst the farmers.

Of course the opportunity to make a point of comparing Lorens' character's predicament to that of the cattle in the cattle-market is not wasted from the outset though I have to admit that I missed it on a first viewing.

The man selling the tickets is revealed to be the husband of her sister with whom she shares a caravan and who is pregnant. Loren reluctantly agrees to the raffle on the basis that the money from the sale of tickets will help her, her sister and her husband escape their itinerant and often degrading lifestyle.

Loren is the subject of much ogling and rude comments from the male townspeople who crowd around her shooting-gallery stall and use the opportunity of buying a round to try and chat her up though she is unimpressed by what is on offer, instead falling for a handsome young cow-hand who rounds up a bull that has somehow escaped its' pen and is running riot in the fair.

The tone of the piece is very much in the "Commedia Al'Italiana" vein and as the men who have purchased tickets vie for her attention and their anticipation reaches fever-pitch, it reaches a climax when the winner is revealed to be a shy, balding curate from the local church with no experience of women, much to their horror.

Seeing her chance to outwit the male townspeople and to avoid the shame of having to sleep with someone for money, she appeals to the curate's sense of morality and buys him off with the takings from the raffle ticket sale and he emerges from the caravan a hero to the townspeople, who are convinced that he has slept with Loren. This follows a mad-cap chase when the handsome cowherd drives the caravan - with Loren and the curate still inside - off its' site after Loren rebuffs him and the film ends when the two reconcile as the townspeople march through the town with the curate held aloft on their shoulders as the towns' elderly women look on in disgust.

This film is perhaps the most typical of the "Commedia Al'italiana" comedy genre of the four films in the collection and as such, really delivers, with a pitch-perfect performance from Loren that never descends into "Carry On" type farce and keeps in mind the female-oriented themes of the four films.

The last of the four films, Mario Monicelli's "Renzo e Luciana" (Eng: "Renzo & Luciana") couldn't be more different to the previous three and it would be a stretch to describe it as "Commedia Al'italiana" though to be fair the term tended to be a very broad categorization of films ranging from broad comedy to social realism and everything in between.

Here, it is very much a slice of social realism that feels more like a TV drama of the period or the Italian equivalent of "Up The Junction" or "Saturday Night Sunday Morning", set in what were then, mushrooming new factory towns, and without any prior knowledge of Monicelli's work it would be difficult to imagine that he was most well-known for films that were typical of the genre.

The plot concerns the Renzo and Luciana of the title who both work in the same factory and where male and female workers are segregated and relationships between employees are discouraged since it could result in a drop in productivity, something that was a concern during Italy's post-war reconstruction period. The two decide to marry in secret and Luciana moves into Renzo's cramped apartment with his family but both face vehement disapproval from Renzo's father, who is concerned that they may both risk losing their jobs if their employer finds out.

Things are complicated when Luciana discovers that she is pregnant and furthermore, her domineering martinet of a supervisor in the typing pool where she works, has designs on her, unaware that she is now a married woman.

The film ends when Renzo and Luciana decide to come clean after the supervisor spots them kissing while at work and he sacks Renzo on the spot. Luciana promptly resigns her position in the typing pool and the two leave the factory for an uncertain future since jobs are hard to come by. In the closing moments we see Renzo in a new job and Luciana boards a bus to work in the city and final shot is of the bus disappearing in amongst the busy traffic of Rome.

There are precious few truly "comic" moments in the "Renzo & Luciana" and it feels like a drama-documentary, which may explain why it was omitted in some releases, though personally I felt it was just as interesting as the three that precede it even if it was the least "commercial" of the collection. It is the most neo-realist of the four films and in many ways each film represents differing cross-generational attitudes to women across the country and at various levels of society, offering a snapshot of Italian womens' experience in the year - 1962 - that the film was made, effectively using "The Decameron" as a springboard to to depict women of the 20th Century as represented by the character of Luciana, ie not as victims of retrogressive attitudes.

It also represents, in terms of style, an acceptance of the influence of television both on viewing habits and approaches to storytelling, very often with limited means and budgets when compared to films for the broader canvas of cinema, which is well represented by the other films. The fact that it was originally intended to be the first film and not the last in the series suggests that Carlo Ponti, the producer, wanted to give it a fighting chance against the other three, which benefit from established names such as Anita Ekberg, Romy Schneider and Sophia Loren, whereas Marisa Solinas ("Luciana") was an up and coming young actress, as was her co-star Germano Giglioli as "Renzo".

It's reinstatement in this excellent 4K restored version on Apple TV makes it worth checking out.

"Boccaccio 70", Dir: Fellini, De Sica, Visconti, Monicelli, 1962

Apple TV


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